Nasdaq (Link) - AFP (December 26, 2008)
Pakistan has redeployed thousands of troops to the border with India, officials said Friday, in a dramatic escalation of tensions with New Delhi in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summoned his military chiefs to review New Delhi's "defense preparedness" while his foreign ministry advised Indians not to travel to Pakistan, saying it was unsafe for them to be in the country.
The developments sent relations plummeting to their lowest point since late 2001, when Kashmiri militants staged a brazen attack on the Indian parliament - an attack New Delhi blamed on the Pakistan-based extremist group Lashkar-e- Taiba. India has blamed the same group for the Mumbai attacks and has repeatedly said Islamabad isn't doing enough to rein in militant groups - a claim Pakistan rejects. Both sides have said they don't want war but warn they would act if provoked.
In Islamabad, senior defense and security officials told AFP thousands of troops were being moved from the restive northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to the east of the country along the Indian border. "We do not want to create any war hysteria but we have to take minimum security measures to ward off any threat," a defense ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity. He said leave for "operational" armed forces personnel had been "cancelled as a defensive measure". A top security official, who also asked not to be named, explained that a " limited number of troops have been pulled out from snowbound areas on the western border where they were not engaged in any operation".
Pakistan's army and air force have recently scaled back their operations against Taliban-linked militants in both the Swat valley and the Bajaur tribal area bordering Afghanistan. Both operations were launched in mid-2008. Another senior security official told AFP the new deployments on the Indian border weren't in "significant numbers but only in areas opposite the points where India is believed to have brought forward its troops".
The defense ministry official said authorities had noticed the movement of Indian troops toward the border near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, and that they believed India had also cancelled military leave. Pakistan's chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas declined to comment.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. Both sides rule the disputed Himalayan region in part but claim it in full. New Delhi has said its slow-moving peace process with Pakistan is now on hold in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, in which 172 people including nine of the gunmen were killed.
Islamabad has said it is willing to cooperate with India in investigating the carnage, but says New Delhi has not given it evidence on which to act - a claim dismissed by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee. "We have ample evidence...to prove that elements based in Pakistan carried out the Mumbai attacks," Mukherjee said. "Pakistan should not divert attention from the real issue of taking action against terrorists by raising war hysteria," he told reporters in New Delhi.
Singh, meanwhile, was closeted with the chiefs of India's army, air force and navy to review "India's defense preparedness," an official in his office said. "The three chiefs made presentations on India's defense preparedness and reviewed conventional military threat scenarios as well as counter-measures now in place," the official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
The Indian foreign ministry, in advising its nationals to avoid Pakistan, cited Pakistani press reports linking the arrest of at least one Indian national to a bomb attack earlier this week in Lahore that killed one woman. Pakistani officials haven't confirmed the reports. "Indian citizens are therefore advised that it would be unsafe for them to travel or be in Pakistan," said ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash.